What Is PERMA Model? The PERMA Model In A Nutshell

The PERMA model was created by American psychologist and educator Martin Seligman. The PERMA model is a framework for happiness and wellbeing based on positive psychology through five elements: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.

Understanding the PERMA model

In 1998, Seligman used his inaugural address as the new president of the American Psychological Association to call for a paradigm shift in psychology. Until that point, the industry focused on relieving human suffering through the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders and maladaptive behaviors.

However, reducing the suffering of someone with poor mental health is not the same as wellbeing – after all, these individuals want to be able to thrive instead of merely existing. In response, Seligman shifted the focus to what was good and positive in life with a simple model defining the elements of a meaningful existence.

This approach is now known as positive psychology, where the ultimate goal is to make life worth living by defining, quantifying, and creating wellbeing in individuals. 

The five elements of the PERMA model

To synthesize the positive psychology approach into a theory, Seligman defined five elements. 

Each element is intrinsically motivating and contributes to wellbeing, and each should be pursued for its own sake and measured independently.

Following is a look at the five elements which also comprise the PERMA acronym.

1 – Positive emotion (P) 

Positive emotions are a prime indicator of a flourishing individual and happily, these can be cultivated or learned. Examples include joy, love, compassion, fulfillment, hope, interest, amusement, and gratitude. 

It’s important to note that positive emotion is more nuanced than simply feeling happy or flashing a great smile. For example, a person may feel happy after accepting their tortured past while looking to the future with renewed hope.

2 – Engagement (E) 

Most people have experienced getting lost in a good book or movie and losing all sense of time. Engagement is very similar to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, where the individual lives in the present moment by focusing completely on a moderately difficult task. 

Engagement can be encouraged by the individual participating in activities they love or remaining in the present moment using a technique such as mindfulness. Positive psychology also suggests spending time in nature and identifying one’s own character strengths.

3 – Positive relationships (R)

Human beings have a natural desire to connect with others and be part of a tribe, group, organization, school, or circle. In fact, social connections have been found to play a role in preventing cognitive decline and increasing physical health.

Well-being can also be increased through the strengthening or maintaining of intimate relationships. This may involve simple actions like sharing good news or responding enthusiastically to the presence of others.

4 – Meaning (M)

Many psychologists believe happiness and wellbeing result from a creative and meaningful life, and not from the blind pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. Seligman defined meaning as life purpose, where the individual devotes their life to something greater than themselves.

Meaning is guided by personal values and as a result, will be different for everyone. For instance, an environmentalist may find meaning by volunteering at an organization that plants trees and conserves animals. Many others find meaning in their religious beliefs or professions.

Wherever meaning is found, however, those with a sense of purpose live longer and have greater life satisfaction.

5 – Accomplishment (A) 

The PERMA model suggests a sense of accomplishment results when individual works toward their goals and achieves mastery, competence, or success. 

Accomplishment should be pursued for its own sake and should not be seen as a means to an end. Indeed, many individuals will find achieving their goals more satisfying because of the sometimes unpleasant process of working toward something.

Goals can be set in any context, including in the workplace, on the sports field, or in the development of a craft, hobby, or interest.

Key takeaways:

  • The PERMA model is a framework for happiness and wellbeing based on positive psychology. It was developed by American psychologist and educator Martin Seligman.
  • Fundamental to the PERMA model is positive psychology, a relatively new domain in psychology involving the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. Positive psychology differs from traditional psychology, which tends to focus on mental illness with and maladaptive behavior.
  • The PERMA model is comprised of five elements: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Each element contributes to well-being, is pursued for its own sake, and is defined and measured independently of other elements.

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